Aviation Icon Returns: Fifi Takes Flight

The following article was written and photographed by Chronic Wanderlust contributors James Pritchard and Jacob Pelham in Midland, Texas.

Young child enjoying the Air Show. (Photo: James Pritchard)

The creator of Chronic Wanderlust once said that using the phrase “Hidden Gem” is a cliché. I hate to say it but he’s correct. But sometimes there really is no other way to describe something that truly is unknown to most people. In Midland, Texas, a city known mainly for oil and natural gas production is the hometown of a few people such as Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Spud Webb, George W. Bush, Matthew McConaughey and my personal favorite, “FiFi”.

Boeing B29 Superfortress with bomb doors open, Japan's worst fear. (Photo: James Pritchard)

Nestled at Midland International Airport in Texas is the headquarters to the Commemorative Air Force (formerly known as the Confederate Air Force) which houses the world’s only flying B29 Superfortress, named “FiFi”. I absolutely love this airplane. Each year the CAF holds an annual Air Show on Runway 10 at Midland International and for the most of the show, “FiFi” is a fan favorite. They will usually invite special air teams such as the Navy Blue Angels, Canadian Snowbirds or the Air Force Thunderbirds. The CAF has the only flying B29 in the world.

P-51 Mustang of the famoue Tuskegee Airmen

In 2006, after performing the annual air show the mechanics were performing routine maintenance on the plane and noticed metal shavings in the engine oil. The world once again, had no B29s that were airworthy. These engines are huge piston radial supercharged powerplants, and there are four of them. Immediately the plane was grounded by the CAF and FAA. The CAF contacted Boeing and spent millions of dollars and about four years to restore the plane and had some completely new engines cast, machined and assembled.

On August 5th, 2010, I was loading my luggage into CW contributor Jacob Pelham’s truck so he could give me a ride to the airport so I could leave for Europe. Above my head I noticed a familiar sound I hadn’t heard in a few years. The rumbling sound of four radial engines on a literal flying piece of history as “FiFi” flew over the driveway on its test flight. The B29 was airworthy and once again cleared by the CAF and FAA for flight. The new engines did not come with the original superchargers from the old engines; therefore, “FiFi” in her current form cannot fly at extremely high altitude. That’s ok though; it is normally used for air shows and doesn’t need to fly at high altitudes.

Taxiing down the tarmac at Midland International Airport for the 2010 Air Show (Photo: James Pritchard)

This year in Midland the CAF held their AirSho for 2010 on October 9th and 10th. The AirSho is usually geared toward reenacting history for enthusiasts, veterans and anyone wanting to learn about history of aerial warfare. The special acts invited this year included a Beech 18 and the world’s only jet powered sail plane (both of which performed night acts) an Extra 300 stunt plane, a pair of F15 Eagles, a pair of F16 Vipers and a B1B Lancer supersonic bomber. Also on display inside the CAF museum is the world’s largest collection of authentic nose art.

Texas (Photo: Jacob Pelham)

The AirSho usually follows a schedule in which gates open early in the morning and people are allowed to walk around on the tarmac and In hangars where aircraft is displayed from World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam and some modern military aircraft such as a C5 Galaxy, C130, C17, F14, AH64 Apache and a few others. Around Noon the show kicks off with flyovers of World War II aircraft preparing to reenact the bombing of Pearl Harbor using real Japanese Zeros, reenactments of the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, and a reenactment of the only time there was aggressive use of nuclear force with the B29 Superfortress. After those acts are performed, the special acts begin including the F15s, F16s, B1B Lancer, The Fina Extra 300s stunt plane piloted by Fina’s Jan Collmer, the Beech 18 and the jet powered sail plane. At 5:00 the CAF held a retro USO style concert featuring patriotic songs reminiscent of World War II. At the end of the concert the sun was nearly set and people started to gather off the taxiway again to view the night show featuring the jet powered Super Salto Sail Plane piloted by Bob Carlton and the Beech 18 as they perform their aerial acrobatics.

Low altitude fly-over (Photo: Jacob Pelham)

The City of Midland and the CAF are proud to have the only flying B29 in the world. Rides in “FiFi” can be purchased for $595 for a thirty minute flight around Midland in the cargo/bomb area or for $995 in the front of the plane with pilots and bomb specialist. Everyone can appreciate this plane whether you are an aircraft enthusiast or not. My favorite thing about it is when I hear the rumble of it flying on the horizon, or when I see it take to the skies from Midland International I know that I am witnessing something truly great. I tip my hat to Boeing, the CAF and the people who spent countless hours working hard to make this once again, the world’s only Flying B29.

2010 Air Show at Night (Photo: James Pritchard)

Climber’s Paradise: Hueco Tanks State Park

This article was written and photographed by ChronicWanderlust contributor Jacob Pelham.

View from the Hueco Tanks

Hueco Tanks State Park is a place that travelers have used for hundreds of years, from the ancient Paleo Native Americans to being a stop on the Butterfield stage route, travelers have used this area as a lifeline in the desert. Travelers of today flock to this area for many reasons including bouldering, birding, hiking, camping, and to just escape the pace of the city. 

Hueco is a Spanish word for hollows, referring to the swiss cheese type holes and indentions in the boulders

Hueco is a Spanish word for hollows, and refers to the swiss cheese type holes and indentions in the boulders that make up this unique area .These holes collect water during rain and tend to retain much of the water within crevices and caves hiding the water from the hot sun. Many types of grasses, cacti, succulents, and trees have sprouted up in the areas adjacent to the massive rock formations which in turn attracts wildlife to this area. Native Americans used this area for many different purposes including hunting, gathering and collecting water, some believe this a a very spiritual place, and in certain areas you can find huge collections of pictographs and petroglyphs telling unknown stories on the rock.

A climber bouldering over his crash pads

From October to approximately February, the population of this remote location explodes with climbers from all over the country and even other parts of the world. Most of the climbing that goes on here is bouldering in which you do not use ropes but portable crash pads in case you fall. The usual maximum height of these boulders that are climbed is around 30 feet and even with the use of crash pads this extreme sport is dangerous. There are hundreds of possible climbing routes throughout the park some of  which are very technical and challenging, but possible. As you walk through the park you notice white marks along the rock where climbers climbed using chalk for grip. Some of the routes seem impossible for anyone to climb and about the time you start thinking that, a climber will come along and climb the impossible.

Freedom to climb wherever you want...

During the last of February this unique area hosts the Rock Rodeo, a multiple day competition where some of the best climbers in the word come to compete. This is a great time to visit and climb on the rocks, even if you are just starting in bouldering someone will come along and give you a few pointers or even let you tag along in their group.

The Hueco Rock Ranch's welcome sign...

The Rock Ranch is a camping area just outside of the park that host to climbers but anyone is welcome. For 5 dollars a night you can have your own personal patch of dirt to set your stuff up and all the stars you care to sleep under. During the Rock Rodeo this camp area is packed with campers, tents, and even a few hammocks (reservations mandatory). At night at the Rock Ranch expect to be invited to join everyone around one of their monstrous bon fires where stories are told and the beer flows freely.

Beautiful rock formations

At Hueco Tanks, it doesn’t matter your background, where you are from, or what your political beliefs are, you are guaranteed to meet friendly interesting people wandering the desert just as you are, and just as the people who came before you were.

Western Europe: Bastion of Terrorism?

If you haven’t yet been reminded by the mainstream media, the State Department has issued a travel advisory for western Europe. In an official statement, the State Department alerted all Americans about a potential for terrorist attacks, saying,”Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks.  European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions.”… Just like any announcement in this country involving terrorism, a bandwagon has been built and people are jumping on the fright train to staycation-ville.

Armed Military Police under the Eiffel Tower (Photo: Commonorgarden via Flickr)

Reporters have started digging up every worry wort in the travel industry to give them a few lines about the grave dangers faced by overweight, fanny-packed, white New Balance wearing Americans snapping photos of the Eiffel Tour.

Perhaps the biggest fear mongerer of them all is Bob Diener, president of GetARoom.com, an online travel agency which specializes in auctioning off discounted hotel rooms. This “travel expert”, who has no background in national security or terrorism, warned a Washington DC radio station that Americans should be avoiding embassies, glamorous hotels and public transportation during rush hours.

“Most people don’t realize this, but most Europeans wear shoes as they’re walking around Europe,” he added,”[Europeans] usually only wear sneakers to ballgames.”… I guess he also thinks we don’t realize that Americans never leave the house without a Dallas Cowboys hat and a belt buckle. You can see the entire moronic interview on WTOP’s website. I’m sure Mr. Deiner would rather us make the safe decision and purchase a discount hotel room in Witchita from his website.

French Military outside the Louvre in Paris (Photo: Jean Francois Gornet via Flickr)

In the 3rd paragraph, I ripped on Mr. Deiner for having no experience in national security or terrorism… well I don’t have a background in it either, but I’ll go ahead and make a statement as a travel writer, pilot and big city hotelier; “Go to Europe.” The media is making this warning out to be just as grave as the DoS’s urge for Americans to stay away from the Mexican border, which it isn’t (but still stay away from the border).

Don’t sneak around Paris dressed in a striped shirt, black jeans and baguette under your arm – just stay alert like you would in any city around the world.

Street View Goes To Antarctica!

The rumors are true, Google Maps has expanded their Street View into Antarctica! In Google Maps’ everlasting quest to photograph the world, all seven continents have now been invaded. Google built a special snow vehicle to carry around the 360 degree camera. While you do get the feeling you’re on a tourist expedition, street view Antarctica is awesome. You gotta check this out, just click the photo to see for yourself…

Click to see street view Antarctica!

History Channel’s Unintended Travel Show

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In a complete coincidence after writing my last blog about truckers and CB radios, I came across an awesome trucker-themed travel show… Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads… ok, so maybe they don’t admit that it’s a travel show, but it is. In this reality show, portraying the sensationalized lives of Canadian bush truckers, 3 of the previous seasons’ most popular characters travel to northern India to tackle wildly dangerous mountain roads. They stick them in old Indian “Tata” trucks with a partner, or “spotter”, who speaks broken English and helps guide the truckers around narrow passes and blind curves while simultaneously providing inadvertent comedic support.

Himalayan mountain highway (Photo: Eddie C via Flickr)

Driving a truck from point A to point B is not exciting. However, when you have 3 goofy Canadian redneck truckers  freaking out while driving a dilapidated truck with fake chrome hubcaps glued to the roof through unfathomably steep mountain passes, it gets pretty damn interesting. There is plenty of well-earned suspense as they nearly crash every 2 minutes from crazy drivers or culture shock. While there is an unfortunate amount cliche reality show announcer voice, the show does a good job of showing a side of local culture rarely sees western eyes. It is fascinating to look into the world of Indian truck drivers, the silk roads in modern times, and beautiful Himalayan scenery.

Himalayan Mountain Road (Photo: History Channel)

It’s hard to tell that this show was made by History Channel, considering it’s a much better mach for Travel or Discovery Channel. I recommend you check this show out, an entire season might get old, but a few episodes are worth checking out. Deadliest Roads is an unintended travel show that does a good job of providing you with a look into a nation’s culture, not just the wild exploits of sexy Lisa and goofy Sanjeev’s Tata.

Lisa Kelly, the sexy and no-bullshit Alaskan trucker (Thanks History Channel!)

Talkin’ Like A Trucker

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Maybe I’m having a flashback to an old 1970’s trucker film, but I love my CB radio. I don’t go on a road trip without it. For the past few years, I’ve been eavesdropping on truckers crusing up and down the interstates and trying to figure out what they’re saying – that’s not always an easy task!

A CB radio can be an invaluable tool if you know how to use it. I’ve gotten out of many traffic jams by listening in, asking a few questions and joining a convoy… seriously. Most truckers have their radios tuned to channel 19, the unofficial “truckers’ channel”. It’s a public band, radio lingo for what is basically a trucker chatroom. They provide a good deal of valuable information and plenty of entertaining bullshit. Even if the highway doesn’t have a crazy traffic jam, it’s still a whole lot of fun to listen to.  

I became a CB radio beliver while driving through Pennsylvania a few years ago. A trucker chimed in that there was a big wreck and northbound traffic on I-81 was completely stopped. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, the news radio hadn’t picked up on the story yet. I listened in as the truckers started sharing directions and exited with a convoy of truckers taking a series of side roads around the wreck. We cruised through Hershey, PA (yes, it smells like chocolate) and back onto the highway, just clear of the now monsterous traffic jam. Had I not “had my ears on”, I would have spent hours waiting for the police to clear the wreck.

Photo: Dave Smith via Flickr

I’ve made a list, with some help from my good friend Wikipedia, of the key terms one may hear flying around channel 19. While you don’t need to be fluent to use channel 19, it does help so you can understand what the truckers are saying, especially when it comes to the cops.

Police

  • “Bear” & “Smokey” – a police officer. This is used interchangeably with other forms like “Bear In The Air” (police helicopter), and “Bear In The Grass” (speed trap).
  • “County Mountie” – a county police officer, not to be confused with a “City Kitty” (local police).
  • “Evel Knievel” – Cop on a motorcycle.  
  • “Got Bit By A Bear” – Got a ticket.  
  • “Bear Bait” – A speeding driver that will attract police attention
  • “Bear Bite” – A speeding ticket.
  • “Bear with a Customer” – a patrol officer who has pulled someone over
  • “Takin’ Pictures” – A Speed trap
  • “Snake In the Grass” – police car radar usually hidden amongst tall cat tails.  

Vehicles

  • “Anchor Clanker” – Boat trailer.
  • “Bob-tail” – Semi-tractor operating without a trailer.
  • “Cattle Wagon” – Livestock truck.
  • “Buster Brown” – UPS truck
  • “Draggin Wagon” – Tow truck.
  • “Four-wheeler” – Any car that has 2 axles… basically what truckers refer to as anyone who isn’t them.
  • “Kiddy Car” – Refers to a school bus.
  • “Parking Lot” – A large car hauler (18 wheeler).

Photo: Sam Butler via Flickr

The Important Stuff

  • “Alice in Wonderland” – Someone who is lost or seeking directions
  • “Anklebiters” – Kids
  • “Back Door” – The area behind a vehicle or the last vehicle in a line.
  • “Knocking at your back door” – I’m approaching from behind.
  • “Big Road” – interstate highway, as opposed to smaller highways and city streets.
  • “Blinders” – High beams.
  • “Brake check” – a brief traffic slowdown.
  • “Breaker 1-9” – telling other CB users that you’d like to start a transmission on a channel. “1-9” is channel 19, the unofficial truckers’ channel.
  • “Bumper Sticker” – A tailgating vehicle.
  • “Cash Box” – refers to a toll booth or toll plaza
  • “Choke and Puke” – Roadside diner
  • “Come Back / Come On” – a request for someone to acknowledge a transmitted message or reply to a question.
  • “Driver” – a polite form of address used when you don’t know someone’s on-the-air nickname. It’s best used when you would normally call someone “sir/ma’am”
  • “Drop the hammer down” – Pressing the accelerator to full speed
  • “Ears” – CB radio (ex: ” got ya ears on?”)  
  • “Flip-flop” – the return leg of a trip. (ex: “Catch you on the flip-flop”)
  • “Gator” / “Alligator” – a large piece of a truck tire’s tread in the roadway.
  • “Got your ears on?” – asking the receiver if they are on the air and listening.
  • “Hammer Lane” – the far left lane (fast lane).
  • “Seat Cover” – an attractive female passenger in a vehicle.
  • “10-20” (more often simply “20”) – Denotes location, as in identifying one’s location (“My 20 is on Main Street and First”), asking the receiver what their current location is (“What’s your 20?”), or inquiring about the location of a third person (“OK, people, I need a 20 on Little Timmy and fast”).

So driver, if you’ve had your ears on, you’ll be ready to put the hammer down on the big road, avoid those snakes in the grass and flip-flop back to your old lady and anklebiters without a bear bite.

Beer 101 at Vancouver’s Granville Island Brewery

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I love beer. I appreciate a fine lager like some people love the different flavors, textures and intricacies of a fine merlot. After an arduous drive from Spokane and a significantly delayed border crossing (Canada was worse than the US!), I dropped into a liquor store to pick up some local brew. One of the liquor store employees recommended Granville Island Brewery, so I picked up a sampler pack and discovered one of my new favorite microbrews.

"Island Lager"

The brewery tour and 3 tastings cost about $10 (Canadian OR American) and runs 3 times, 7 days a week at noon, 2pm and 4pm. I’ve been to the Guiness and Heineken breweries and this is NOTHING like them. Granville Island Brewery is small, very small. Our tour consisted of about 10 people and one extremely knowledgeable and passionate tour guide. The tour begins in their tasting room and then progresses through the glass doors into the one brewing room. Yes, you read right, Granville Island Brewery has a one-room tour.

The tour guide introduces us to beer

After he introduces himself, the tour guide has the group meet each other – a damn good idea since the 11 of us were spending about an hour together in a small room. After a history of the brewery and introduction to brewing, the tour guide brought us into their “storage area” (the back corner of the room) and passes around tastes of the different grains and hops which give each of their beers a distinct flavor. Some barley grains are roasted in a kiln to create a dark black, deeply flavored, coffee-like grain used in dark beers like stouts.

Sampling the roasted "stout" barley

Behind the tour guide is the grinder that mashes up the malted barley, creating a powder-like substance called “grist”. The grist is then pumped through an extensive system of PVC pipes into what is basically a giant kettle. Inside this contraption, the grist mixes with hot water. This gooey mixture is called “mash”. The grist’s (ground barley) malt enzymes are put into overdrive by the hot water, helping them to create simple sugars out of starches. Once it’s been totally mashed, the good stuff gets pumped into a giant contraption called a “lauter ton”.

the mash mixer

The lauter fan is like the judicial system of the brewing process, separating the good and getting rid of the bad parts. The good stuff is the sweet mixture of “wort”, basically beer juice. The bad stuff is the leftover barley stalks and other bits and pieces. The good folks over at Granville Island send all the bad parts to a farm, where the pigs find it to be rather tasty.

After separating beer juice from pig food, they mix everything into a giant kettle and add hops. As the wort and hops are heated in the kettle, malted flavors are extracted naturally from the wort and the whole substance gets sterilized. The heated wort gets cooled down and pumped into a fermenter through another complicated network of PVC pipes. There are literally hundreds of feet of PVC pipe circling all over the ceiling and walls in the brewery.

Glycol is the cooling substance, but it's not used IN the beer

The fourth ingredient of beer, yeast, is added in the fermenter. Just like we all learned in 7th grade science class, yeast are alive and running around the fermenting beer consuming the sugars and converting them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Good things come to those who wait.  What beer is complete without alcohol and bubbles?! Different types of beer require different amounts of fermentation; 4 or 5 days for ales, and about 2 weeks for a lager.

The fermenter

Once the ale or lager is fermented, it gets pumped into an “aging tank”. This process is called “conditioning” and “lagering”… this is where the beer gets it’s flavor, and in the case of Granville Island, a damn good flavor. Ales get aged for 4 to 6 weeks, lagers take about 2 months.

The last step in the beer making process is filtering and bottling. If I have to explain what “filtering” and “bottling” mean, you’ll just have to Google-it on your own. Not all beers, however, are filtered – some breweries leave their beer unfiltered to fit a niche market who like their beers on the hardcore side.

The best part of the tour is the tasting, duh!! We sampled the Island Lager, Robson Street Hefeweizen and a limited release raspberry beer. By the end of the tour, we had all gotten to know each other which made drinking together all the more fun!

Sampling the beer 🙂

If you have a thirst for more knowledge, check out Granville Island’s website at http://www.gib.ca for info about their brewing process and a cool online shop to order their beer.

Brewing for Dummies

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